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Engage citizens to overcome the physical inactivity

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, costing approximately $67.5 billion/year to healthcare systems. To curb the physical inactivity pandemic, it is time to move beyond traditional approaches and engage citizens by re-purposing tools such as smartphones.

To curb the physical inactivity pandemic, it is time to move beyond traditional approaches and Using smartphones to engage citizens to overcome the physical inactivity pandemic

The primary objective of the SMART Study( was to use Avicenna to prototype and validate a mobile and citizen science methodological platform for active living surveillance, knowledge translation, and policy interventions. This quasi-experimental investigation was designed to engage participants (i.e., citizen scientists) in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 4 different seasons across 3 years.

In Spring 2017 (1st cycle), 216 adult citizen scientists (≥18 years) were recruited in person, and online, through a combination of convenience sampling and self-selection. Citizen scientists installed the Avicenna application on their personal Android or iPhone device for 8 consecutive days to provide a complex series of objective and subjective data. They answered a succession of validated surveys that were pilot-tested to assign different smartphone triggering mechanisms (e.g. user-triggered, scheduled-triggered) to maximize compliance. The validated surveys captured physical activity (IPAQ), sedentary behavior (Adapted PACE survey), motivation (PALMS), the perception of the outdoor and indoor environment (Adapted NEWS), and eudaimonic well-being (QEWB). Ecological momentary assessments were employed on each day to capture not only physical activity but also physical and social contexts along with barriers and facilitators of physical activity, as relayed by citizen scientists using geo-coded pictures and audio files. To obtain a comprehensive objective picture of participant GPS-based location data, motion-based activity, and interaction with smartphone was also surveilled for 8 days.

Initial descriptive analyses were conducted using geo-coded photographs and audio files. Pictures and audio files (i.e., community voices) showed that the barriers and facilitators of active living included intrinsic/extrinsic motivations, social contexts, and outdoor/indoor environment, with pets and favorable urban design featuring as the predominant facilitators, and work-related screen time proving to be the primary barrier. Future analyses will focus on the validation of ecological momentary assessments and smartphone objective measures to lay the foundation for simulation modeling using big data.

Study Profile

Participation duration: 1 week per season for 3 years

Sample size: 320 subjects

Data sources:

  • Surveys
  • Location information
  • Physical activity
  • Smartphone usage

Research Team

Tarun Katapally, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
University of Regina